EXPLANATION OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
(Based on Maricopa County, Arizona)
When the police have completed the investigation of a possible crime, the officer in charge of the case submits a police report (paper referral) of the crime to the County Attorney's office to determine if charges will be filed. Police may either arrest the suspect prior to submitting the report or submit the report without arresting the suspect.
When a suspect is arrested, they are booked into jail. If the suspect has not already been fingerprinted and photographed in relation to this charge, this is done at the time of booking.
This is a hearing held before a magistrate or justice of the peace to do the following:
1. Inform the defendant of the charges and appoint an attorney.
An attorney will be appointed if the defendant qualifies as indigent. In most cases this will be a public defender, an attorney who works for the county public defender's office. However, if there are multiple defendants (only one defendant in a case may be represented by the public defender) or a conflict of interest exists, a private attorney, under contract to the county, may be appointed to represent the defendant. Writing a court report is one of the most important responsibilities of a CASA volunteer. The court report is the official method that a Court Appointed Special Advocate uses to inform the judge about what the advocate has learned about the appointed child and family. Through the court report a CASA volunteer lets the judge know what has been happening to the child while in the court's care. The report outlines, in a standard format, what the CASA volunteer has discovered, the volunteer's assessment of the child's situation, and what the volunteer feels the court needs to do to help the child achieve a safe, permanent home.
2. Set terms and conditions of release
If the defendant is in custody, a bond may be set or the defendant may be released on their own recognizance (promise to appear without bond being set) or to a third party. If the defendant is out of custody, a bond may be set (in which case the defendant may be taken into custody until the bond has been posted), or remain out of custody on their own recognizance or in the custody of a third party.
The defendant may also be placed under certain conditions at this time, such as having no contact with the alleged victim or witnesses, being ordered not to leave the state, or to undergo drug testing.
3. Set date for preliminary hearing.
Unless an indictment has been issued by the grand jury, the defendant has a right to a preliminary hearing (to determine if probable cause exists) within a specific period of time. The initial appearance magistrate will notify the defendant of this date. Time and location of the hearing: 1. If the defendant has been arrested and jailed, the initial appearance must take place within 24 hours of arrest, and this hearing is held in a courtroom at the jail facility.
4. If the defendant is not in custody and a complaint has been issued, the hearing is held at the justice court in which the complaint was filed and is presided over by the justice of the peace for that precinct.
5. If a defendant has been indicted and a summons has been issued, the initial appearance is held at the time of the arraignment.
All police reports in which a suspect has been charged by the police with a felony offense (a crime for which, if convicted, a person could be sentenced to prison for a year or more), whether or not the suspect has been arrested, are reviewed by a county attorney. The attorney must decide to proceed in one of three ways:
1. File charges immediately if the police report is complete;
2. Return the report to the police for further investigation; or
3. Decline prosecution.
Prosecution may be declined for several reasons: the state may not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed a crime, no crime was actually committed or the appropriate charge is a misdemeanor (a crime punishable by up to six months in jail) and should be submitted to the appropriate city prosecutor for review.
If the defendant has been arrested, the reviewing attorney must make a decision within 48 hours of the initial appearance (excluding weekends and holidays), or the defendant will be released from custody. However, this release does not preclude charges from being filed at a later time.
The reviewing attorney may either file a complaint charging the defendant with a crime (in which case a preliminary hearing will be held), or take the case to a grand jury who may issue an indictment.
Both a complaint and an indictment set forth the nature of the crime, the date(s) of occurrence and the applicable statutes.
Warrant or Summons
If a defendant is not in custody at the time a complaint or indictment is issued, he or she may be notified of the next court date by either a warrant or summons. An arrest warrant notifies law enforcement that the defendant should be arrested when he/she is located. Warrants may authorize law enforcement to arrest a defendant anywhere in the United States, or they may be confined to arrests solely in Arizona. If a defendant is arrested out of state, he or she must be extradited (or waive extradition) in order to be returned to the state.
A summons is served on the suspect, like a subpoena and notifies him or her to appear in court at the date and time indicated. If the defendant fails to appear, a warrant may be issued for his or her arrest.
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